San Diego Comic-Con is upon us once again, and what better way then to have an EXCLUSIVE chat with Simon Kinberg.
Simon Kinberg is the writer-producer on STAR WARS REBEL, X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, THE FANTASTIC FOUR and X-MEN: APOCALYPSE, he also wrote 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand.
Kinberg and I spoke about all things going on with FANTASTIC FOUR (which is currently filming) and clear up some rumors spreading throughout the web, especially about the film coming to this year’s Comic-Con. He also speaks about where he sees the X-Men franchise going in the future and more.
Here is what he had to say:
LR: So how’s it going with Fox and comic book movies that you are involved in?
Simon Kinberg: Good, really good actually! It’s a pretty great time to be making comic book movies at Fox I have to say. They are letting us make and actually encouraging us to make cooler more ambitious films. I mean DAYS OF FUTURE PAST was definitely an indicator of that. X-MEN FIRST CLASS and Mangold’s WOLVERINE movie was some indication too. They want us to push the envelope with these things.
LR: As a producer of all of these things, does that give you more leverage to create more stuff?
Simon Kinberg: Yes, there are some that I write and produce and some I just produce. Fox, because I have made a few of these movies for them now and they have liked the way they turned out, they allow me the flexibility and freedom in the process. It’s a nice time to be making them and because of the way that Marvel operates now and STAR WARS is doing and I think in some ways with all the biggest branded entertainment is doing, they are letting us think about these stories as more than one film at a time. So we are building these larger tapestries and that’s a fun way to tell stories as well.
LR: You are involved with FANTASTIC FOUR; will we see any of it at this year’s Comic-Con?
Simon Kinberg: No, I can definitively officially tell you that there will not be anything from FANTASTIC FOUR at this year’s Comic Con. We are still very much in the middle of shooting and we don’t want to show anything until it’s ready and it’s not ready yet. We want the first stuff that we show from the film to really blow people away, and it will but we have got to wait until it’s ready.
LR: You don’t want to do a disservice to the film…
Simon Kinberg: Yes, we are hopefully going to be refining the way the people see the FANTASTIC FOUR movies. There are so many things we are doing different from the previous film and so many things different from other comic books films. When we really step forward we want it to be with our best foot forward. Instead of rushing something together for the Con we’d rather really wait until we have that perfect first image, perfect first sequence and first scene to show people. And I know that there’s a lot of people that think that’s the big surprise from Fox this year at the Con and knowing that I’m talking to a reporter and I’m going on record that I’m saying unfortunately that will not be a surprise for the fans of Comic-Con this year. Obviously the Comic-Con world is incredible important to FANTASTIC FOUR and because of that we want to give them the best version of what we are making.
LR: There’s always New York Comic-Con.
Simon Kinberg: Yes, there is New York, there’s Wonder Con, there is a lot of other places were we may indeed pop up with a surprise down the road. It just didn’t time out well this year and we are really so focused on making the film here in Baton Rouge and its going great. You have a lot of people that want to do something really special.
LR: Speaking of the FANTASTIC FOUR, are the FANTASTIC FOUR and the X-Men ever going to team up?
Simon Kinberg: I would love to see the X-MEN and FANTASTIC FOUR team up if only because I’m a fan and certainly it’s something we’ve thought about and talked about. The challenge is that they essentially live in different universes. In the X-Men world of the movies we never hear them talk about a famous super team called the FANTASTIC FOUR and in the FANTASTIC FOUR movie they are fantastic because they are the only ones of their kind meaning there aren’t other people with super powers on the streets. The FANTASTIC FOUR are in this movie are the first to transform into something super powerful. So given that they exist in these different domains or dimensions there are some inherent challenges. Part of the fun of working in this realm is trying to overcome those challenges and try to figure out how you can bridge the gaps between different worlds and different dimensions.
LR: Ultimate FANTASTIC FOUR was bonkers, eventually making Reed Richards one of the biggest villains of the line and the Classic FANTASTIC FOUR comics play broad and goofy to a modern audience. Kate Mara recently said that the new FANTASTIC FOUR is different from the comics and it's not surprising. What's the crux of the FANTASTIC FOUR to you?
Simon Kinberg: I actually think that this FANTASTIC FOUR movie is sort of a celebration of all the FANTASTIC FOUR comics that have preceded it. We have elements from the original FANTASTIC FOUR that there’s a sort of optimism and inspirational quality to the film. In some ways a comedy that was really distinct in the original FANTASTIC FOUR. Also, the notion of this dysfunctional surrogate family that comes together and has to work together is very present in the movie that owes a great debt to the originals. And this idea that they are scientist and that it’s almost like this science adventure, more than being superheroes, they are almost like scientific adventurers, that’s a big part of the movie too. We also owe a lot to the Ultimate’s and the current crop of FANTASTIC FOUR comics and you’ll see that. I don’t want to give anything away but you will see it in the details and a lot of the story telling. It’s really sort of inspired by all the different history of the FANTASTIC FOUR comics. I think what Kate meant, and I read that comment, I think what she meant which was right is that it’s not based on any one run. DAYS OF FUTURE PAST was obviously based on DAYS OF FUTURE PAST comic run and that was something that I could easily give the actors to read and they’d know the whole story. In this case because we are really snatching details, story lines, moments, action sequences from across the whole gambit of the decades of FANTASTIC FOUR, there isn’t one comic that defines the movie.
LR: It’s spread out pretty much.
Simon Kinberg: Exactly.
LR: So how has that changed during scripting and production?
Simon Kinberg: It hasn’t changed much in the scripting process. Josh Trank, the director, had a very clear vision as to what he wanted the movie to be, tonally especially. He knew he wanted it to be a more grounded, more character driven, more emotional, and a little more dramatic movie certainly more than the previous films. I think that tone has remained consistent through every draft and through for the however many days of shooting we’ve had now. We are well past the two-thirds mark of photography. As we go it’s like any movie or any movie I’ve worked on that’s a good movie, things evolve, you learn stuff while you are on the floor when you have good actors. The actors start to teach you more about the characters because they are the person who is living the character every day, it’s not me, the writer, or Josh, the director – it’s the actor. We have to think about the over all story and how all the characters interact, but for each the actors they are just focused on their character in that scene. As you go you learn from them. That I think has changed and evolved as we’ve been shooting. You’ll get a lot of good ideas, little nuances, little moments and warnings from the actors. That happened on X-MEN and all the X-MEN movies I’ve worked on and actually going on X-3 but certainly and especially X-MEN FIRST CLASS and X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST it’s a very collaborative environment. Especially when you have an ensemble like this, it’s creates a camaraderie on the set and that in turn creates a more collaborative environment.
LR: From a fan perspective, will a fan of the FANTASTIC FOUR comics come out of this movie feeling like they just watched a FANTASTIC FOUR movie?
Simon Kinberg: Absolutely. This is being made by fans of the FANTASTIC FOUR comics. Josh and I are humongous fans of the FANTASTIC FOUR comics. In fact when the studio first called me about doing this movie it was right at the end of X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST last summer. They said are you interested in doing the FANTASTIC FOUR movie and I said I was only interested in doing a FANTASTIC FOUR movie, meaning a movie that really honors the FANTASTIC FOUR comics. I’m not interested in doing something just to use the title as an excuse to do a goofy kids movie.
LR: Like a found footage type of film?
Simon Kinberg: When filmmakers honor the essence and the tone and the voice and the characters of the comics those make the best movies. To me X-Men 2, SPIDER-MAN 1 and 2, THE DARK KNIGHT movies, IRONMAN and everything Marvel has been doing. I think what we did with FIRST CLASS and DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, those were all made by people who really love, respect and really want to honor the books and that’s the same approach we are taking here. The most important audience for us are the core fans, the fans who love the books and for them to come out and feel like it’s really the first time they’ve seen the FANTASTIC FOUR on the screen.
LR: How much freedom does Fox have with the FANTASTIC FOUR rights as far as steering away from the source material and the essence of the characters?
Simon Kinberg: I don’t know how much Fox legally what kind of control Fox has. I know the mandate we went into it with, meaning me and Josh Trank, was we wanted to create a movie that is made from the love we share for the FANTASTIC FOUR comics and characters. If there’s story points and details where we have to steer away in some ways to go deeper with the characters then we’ll do that. I think a lot of adaptation whether it’s an adaptation of a comic or a great novel; the things that they are most importantly devoted to is the essence and the themes, the tones and the characters. Sometimes the actually stories, like the plot can shift a little bit. With this FANTASTIC FOUR we are not beholden to a singular plot from the comics. We are drawing story ideas from the whole history of the FANTASTIC FOUR. There is a little more flexibility with the story and a real focus and commitment and dedication with the characters.
LR: Which do you prefer as a story teller, a movie like X-MEN; DAYS OF FUTURE PAST where the director was instagram’ing things from the set or a movie like Josh Trank’s FANTASTIC FOUR which has been notoriously hard to pin down?
Simon Kinberg: I don’t know. I think different movies need different things to be honest. I thought what Bryan was doing was fun online and yet I also like being here on set where there is very little distraction. I think different movies demand different things. With X-MEN: DAYS FUTURE PAST there was so much positive energy and sort of hype going into that movie partly because of the cast and partly because we had been building toward it all the way from X-MEN 2 thru FIRST CLASS to finally getting all these actor together. There was so much energy that I thought it was a fun idea to be giving the fans a little taste of it as we were going. With a movie like this where there is actually some suspicion about what a FANTASTIC FOUR movie was going to be, because fans were not happy particularly happy about the last two, I think for us we didn’t want to show them stuff until it was really cooked. Until we feel like we are going to show it to you and it’s going to blow you away and in a blink you are going to know we made a FANTATSIC FOUR movie you wanted us to make. I think if you let people into the kitchen too much you sort of get too focused on the different ingredients and the tiny details instead of serving the meal knowing this is delicious. The hope and the reason that this one has been a little more locked down is like I say, we really just want to let the fans in when everything is ready and they can see all the work we’ve done has led, in a blink, the real FANTASTIC FOUR.
LR: Marvels Phase structure and team-up movies don't apply to the Fox Marvel properties that revolve around teams, but each Marvel Phase has a piece of world-building to get done. Phase 1 introduced the line between SHILED and STARK science and Asguardian Magic. Phase 2 has been about isolating heroes from their greater power structures. Do you see your current series of history-linked X-Films as having a single narrative thrust or is it enough to show how history deals with those it labels different?
Simon Kinberg: It’s a really interesting question. The answer is we really do think more broadly than one movie at a time. We think about it in sort of two ways – one is the global and one is the personal. We think about these X-MEN movies as spread over – X-MEN FIRST CLASS, DAYS OF FUTURE PAST to APOCALYPSE was imagined as a trilogy for us. It’s the Origin stories in some ways of Charles, Raven, Hank and Eric and we will be settling things up in APOCALYPSE that will be generating new stories. We look at it globally as to where to mutants fit into the world. That’s why we jump from the 60’s to the 70’s and now the 80’s. We really want to be able to track the progression of the world and where do mutants fit in that world. It’s a pretty radical thing to do in any movie but certainly in a superhero franchise where you are jumping a decade each time you make a film. The reason that it is globally is that we wanted to be able to track the impact of mutants and the emergence of mutants into the world. Personally, we are very clear from the beginning as to how Charles, Eric and Raven especially dovetail, duck and weave in and out of each others lives. We were building, in some ways, a trilogy that is a story of three people; a brother, a little sister and another man who comes, in some ways, as a brother and how that sister leaves with the new brother. The war for that sisters’ soul between these two men defines FIRST CLASS, DAYS OF FUTURE PAST and APOCALYPSE. That’s a larger story we are telling even though each of those films is its own coherent and complete film. You can look at the arc of those three characters almost like a television show arcing over three complete episodes.
LR: X-Men APOCALYPSE is going to take place in the 80s. FIRST CLASS used the style of a bond movie to feel period while DAYS OF FUTURE PAST mostly used historical events as settings, is there an event in the 80s that ties into APOCALYPSE?
Simon Kinberg: I don’t want to get to specific. We love the alternate history thing. It started in FIRST CLASS with the Cuban Missile Crisis. It’s something that we picked up on with the JFK back-story for DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. It’s something as a writer that I’ve always loved and I know it’s something Lauren Shuler Donner, the other producer and Bryan Singer loves. So, we will take advantage of the historical context of the 80’s.
LR: Your group of X-Men is growing. Each film adds new Mutants and now with Days of Future Past doing what it did, some of the old favorites can come back. AND you have Channing Tatum waiting in the wings to bring a new version of Gambit to the screen. Will he be introduced in a team movie or get a solo outing or is a solo movie a better way to focus on a characters origins?
Simon Kinberg: I genuinely don’t know the answer to that question. It’s something we are all talking about whether it would be good for Gambit to be in a mainline X-MEN movie or he would be in his own stand-alone movie potentially one day to be able to be in another X-MEN movie after his Gambit movie introduces him. I really don’t know the answer. I don’t think there is a hard and fast rule which way is better. I think both ways have worked and I think actually the real question will be is there a role that is strong and specific enough for Gambit in a mainline X-MEN movie whether it be APOCALYPSE or future X-MEN movie that would be the right way to introduce the character. You don’t want to stick characters in these movies and manufacture something for them to do. You want the movie to tell you that it needs another character or ideally it needs this specific character.
LR: I have a little game here. I will shotgun one of these beers for each wrong guess as to the identity of APOCALYPSE’ Four Horseman.
Simon Kinberg: I don’t think I can play that game with you. I don’t want you chugging beers on my behalf and I can’t tell you if you are right or wrong anyway. But, I will tell you this and obviously there are a lot of different versions of the Horseman over the books, and this will not reveal any of the identities so I apologize in advance. I will let you know that our choosing of the Horseman was something that we, Bryan and myself took very, very seriously and did only after an exhaustive review of all the different Horseman, both in the comics and the cartoons who have at one point or another fallen under APOCALYPSE.
LR: Honestly, how many times have you had the conversation about what to do with Wolverine once Hugh Jackman exits and are the multiple contingency plans or just A. Plan.?
Simon Kinberg: I really haven’t had that conversation. That may be a conversation Lauren Shuler Donner has had. She’s always been more involved in the WOLVERINE movies and she really is the creator of the entire franchise going back to 1999 or 2000, whenever it began. I know from Hugh who is just become a friend and I’ve actually made another movie with Hugh this year, a Neill Blomkamp movie, so I’ve made a lot of films with Hugh now. I think as long as the stories are compelling and the scripts are good, until he is in a wheelchair himself, you will get Hugh Jackman to come back and play WOLVERINE. So I don’t personally have a contingency plan for him leaving the franchise because I can’t imagine him leaving the franchise. I’m building these movies just as I assume I have Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy – I have Hugh Jackman as well. So until he literally calls me from the hospital and says ‘I can’t do it anymore’ I will continue to put him in these movies. Having spoken with him about it I do think it is the quality of the material and filmmakers. If there are filmmakers he wants work with and its something interesting and new for him to do with the character I think we’ll get him to come back.
LR: Is there any chance of seeing Nightcrawler in APOCALYPSE?
Simon Kinberg: Is there any chance? There is always a chance.
LR: Will we see the Silver Surfer again under your watch?
Simon Kinberg: I would love to find a way to incorporate the Silver Surfer into film again. There's so much rich drama to play with his character, he's actually one of the more complex characters in comics, and deserves a story as sophisticated as he is.
LR: Did you take over Mark Millars post by default or is he still involved?
Simon Kinberg: Mark is still very much involved. He's a good friend, and we're working on a bunch of things together, including and beyond the marvel properties. One of my favorite new books is his Starlight. He was kind or crazy enough to let me come on as the producer, and I think that movie could be extraordinary, really special.